I knew I wanted to say something at my mother’s memorial celebration on Sunday. I had written, or started to write some things, but didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go or how to pull it together… until the early hours of that day... confirming, once again, that I work best under pressure.
I had to talk about the Mystery Shawl KAL and lifted quite a bit of my blog post for that. But I also pulled from another blog post I'd started -- a Ten on Tuesday post about what I'd learned from my mom. It was unfinished, sitting in drafts... I just couldn't do it in May... but it made a pretty good springboard.
I wore the amber earrings that Mom brought me from her student trip to Russia in 1974, she's borrowed them on occasion and she was wearing them in a few of the photos we displayed as a slide show.
Well, I just wanted to record this as best I could.
My mother taught me EVERYTHING, but mostly just how to do the best you can... to be your best, to pull off your best game no matter what.
My mother taught me so many things... about how to be strong, independent, and dignified; about how a woman pulls herself up and finds a way to support five kids because it's the only way she's going to survive.
I watched as she demonstrated how not to settle for what someone else might think is good enough, finding a way to earn her nursing degree while living on welfare and buying groceries with food stamps.
And always with immeasurable style. She had more style in her little finger than all of us put together and it showed in everything – in how she transformed and furnished her home, her yard and gardens, and especially in how she dressed. She could make it work whether it was from Nieman Marcus or Walmart.
She taught me little things, too. How to clean (that’s actually pretty huge in my mother’s world), how to iron and sew, how to knit…
Mom taught me to knit when I was in 1st grade to reiterate what she learned when our neighbor lady in Highland Park, Mrs. Hamel, taught Mom to knit and Mom taught Mrs. Hamel to sew. I don’t think I actually made anything, but I never completely forgot how to knit, and over the years I’d pick it up now and then – usually when I was lonely – when I moved up north in high school, when I moved to Oregon in the early 80s.
The last time I actually spoke with my mother, the Friday before she was transferred to ICU, we talked about my knitting. I’d just begun a “mystery knit-along” with some online friends and had brought it to work on while we visited. I explained how a mystery pattern works (and I’d be happy to explain it to anyone here who might be interested), and talked about how much fun it was to dye yarn again. I had no idea that it would be our last real conversation.
I was happy for the distraction that the knitting provided while Mom's condition fluctuated, and eventually declined, over those 19 days. It didn’t faze me a bit – I was even grateful – to tink back and re-knit many rows (14, I think) of Clue 2, stitch by stitch, to correct an error.
My knitting was something that I could fix.
Probably the most complicated lace pattern I've ever knit, it gave me something to concentrate on and think about that wasn't my mother, though of course I thought about my mother constantly.
I looked forward to knitting every night -- after work, after visiting the hospital, no matter how late it was – I had to take time. I enjoyed following along with my friends, reading about others' progress with the pattern, how they felt about their colors, how they were working out the transitions*, concerns over yardage and whether one had enough stitch markers in their possession. I spent time carefully highlighting my pattern clues, color coding the different sections so that it would be easier to keep my place; breaking it down… keeping control.
By the end of the month, I was on track and nearing the finish. Therapy knitting at its finest, I was really pretty astounded at my progress and gave a thankful nod to Mom & Sharon, my guardian knitting angels. Though her prowess in knitting never matched that of her sewing, Mom was knowledgeable and appreciative – and I knit many beautiful things for her over the years; my sister Sharon was neither steady nor prolific as a knitter, but she chose the most amazing projects and the quality of her work was incredible.
Shawl: 2014 TTL Mystery Shawl – Algiers.
Finally, as a mother…
This is the part where I had to wing it because I ran out of time… and this is the gist of it, I think.
Whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I’d answer, “A mother.”
When I actually became a mother, I was stumped! We were between houses in Oregon and lived in a motel for the first week of Katie’s life, and I had to go to a phone booth when I needed to call my mom for advice. She was encouraging, but never had an answer for my questions, telling me that she just couldn’t remember… having five kids in six years, she just did whatever she had to do to get through each day!
Mom & Joe came out to Oregon when Katie was 6 weeks old and within minutes I was put at ease. “Oh, you can hold a baby like THAT??” And I was immediately reassured and relaxed into motherhood.
Our experiences as young mothers and as mothers of teens were quite different, but as the mother of adult children… a friend... I couldn’t have asked for better. We used to do so much together and had so much fun – she set a good example that I try to follow in my relationships with my three daughters.